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Wilmington Transition Prompts 1,200 FCC Calls

After tons of local and national publicity, and the eagerly watching eyes of the FCC, Congress and broadcasters, the five-county region of Wilmington, N.C., (DMA no. 134) pulled off the first DTV transition in the nation as an experiment, of sorts, for the rest of the country to watch and learn from.

Two days after the shutoff, the FCC and others were cheering the event as a success—at least regarding the effectiveness of their education campaigns. But looking at it another way, a lot of people called with problems.

The FCC reported 797 calls the first day of the switch, and 424 the second day. That's more than 1,200 in a market has 14,000 over-the-air-dependent viewers, although some of the calls complaining about the loss of NBC affiliate WECT came from outside the market—in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Raleigh, N.C., for example—where the new DTV signal is not designed to reach.

The FCC spun the numbers differently, saying less than 0.5 percent of total viewers called in.

The stations themselves and local universities logged hundreds more calls.

The FCC was able to resolve many problems—many people simply needed to rescan the channels with their converter boxes—but hundreds had other reception problems.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has said that 5 percent of over-the-air viewers might have problems with reception and need improved antennas.

Wilmington had been deluged for months with public notices, staged events, demonstrations and other local publicity on what the transition was all about, including that fact that more than 90 percent of TV households would not be affected.

Lack of knowledge about the transition, however, was not a problem, according to several published reports and the NAB. Nearly everyone in the market knew something about Sept. 8 being the transition day—about 97 percent, said NAB.

Other more modest tests and signal-interrupting alerts will be carried out over the next few months in a handful of markets.